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Altered Books 


Make Projects 

build, hack, tweak, share, discover,^ 

Altered Books 

Written By: Brian Sawyer 


Hardcover book (1) 

Distress ink (1) 

Brads (1) 

Paint (1) 

Lumiere brand paints in two-tone metallics. 

Images (1) 

Printed image on heavy-stock paper. 

Embellishments (1) 

Other embellishments that pique your fancy. 

Craft knifed) 

Cutting mat (1) 

Glue stick (1) 

Scissors (1) 

Stamps (1) 

Inkpads (1) 

Sponge brush (1) 

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Hole punch (1) 


Post-It removable cover-up tape. 


Part bookbinding, part bibliovandalism, part mixed-media collage, and part scrapbooking, the 
craft of altered books is becoming increasingly popular and recognized as the distinct art 
form it is. But what exactly is an altered book? According to the International Society of 
Altered Book Artists (, it's "any book, old or new, that has been 
recycled by creative means into a work of art. They can be ... rebound, painted, cut, burned, 
folded, added to, collaged in, gold-leafed, rubber stamped, drilled, or otherwise adorned..." 

Note the trailing ellipsis: the possibilities are as open as your mind, so no list of 
embellishments will ever be complete. The techniques presented here are by no means 
meant to be exhaustive, but these common examples should provide enough tools and 
inspiration to get you started with altered books. 

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Step 1 — Getting started. 

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• First, choose a book to use as your 
"blank canvas." Hardcover books 
work better than paperbacks 
because they have the strength to 
support the weight of 
embellishments and to sustain the 
abuse you'll be inflicting on them. 

• As tempting and obvious a choice 
as a children's board book is, using 
one will require a lot more work. 
Because glues don't adhere well to 
the glossy pages, you'll need to 
sand off the plastic coating from all 
of the pages and prime them with 
gesso before getting to work. 

• Before settling on a book, bend 
back the corners of a few pages. 
Make sure they don't crack; 
cracking is a sure sign they won't 
sustain the altering process. 

• With these practical concerns in 
mind, choose a book that interests 
you, since you'll be living with it for 
a while. You can choose a book 
based on its design or aesthetics 
alone, or according to a contextual 
theme you intend to work with 
throughout the book. Of course, if 
you intend to completely cover or 
mutilate the book, the content won't 
make much difference. In this 
case, you should perhaps choose 
based on durability alone. 

• Book in hand, now make room for 
the embellishments you're going to 

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add. Go through the entire book, 
removing pages periodically 
(pulling firmly, right up against the 
spine) in groups of 2 or 3. You'll 
need to tear out more as you go, 
but it's best to get rid of a bunch of 
pages at the beginning (plus, 
emotionally, I've found this to be 
the most difficult part of beginning, 
once you've ripped out a few 
pages, altering the rest of the book 
becomes much easier). 

• Finally, choose your first spread 
(altering facing pages as a single 
unit creates a unified aesthetic) 
and glue a couple of pages together 
(more for heavier embellishments) 
on either side. As you alter the rest 
of the book, you'll need to do this 
for every spread you work on, to 
reinforce the surface and support 
the weight of the embellishments 
you add. 

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Step 2 — Adding a pocket page. 

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. he, th> 

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Mill :■ fis-Mlwll.....,, 

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lupcm the jjterniMfl ic 


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me £w J dnewi wdk in ita p:inV; | fell <lvr Kuks nl t « 
femnnn ../ imlfxfyry kdva in J*r hand. Wv p 
viler in l-irjan C;lirali. aftd PaDJa hid Eiim pur t 
better i wis mm. a kiuqurt [hat looked like a 
knK I irml 10 dntinguisli ihr slcims in' dtfrvnriit Hi 
Andhf Mtr thai l'.'vh,''--,: . v ■',;, daottciL J ! ,iijI 

wli«J !int if [ ffli likf God. I itpW iluif I i*as quoting jus fordi 
Hte i n 41.11 ■;> ruj, but ] was csnairjj .m .Idim distowriiifi hisfj 
of tJit'ii, A 1 id .in Adam wha kttftt quickly, ii «.■-.■:■ ■• I saw, 
iIeW, Mir* bonks .11 iJ bosis •>! cteanstrs, ,ind I knew ,n ana n 
touch iIk- tree crfj^xxl and rvil. 

AltCT dinner I *u dnwa in the livmjr p^im, [nnjiiitucly J ' 
■*wnj!hc rwking chair jnd ^ink inio it. "You.-Jway 
holi «id. "fii when 1 you had yuur rraung sctudi, 
GnUctjJo il.uld permit you liuc." Sin- iWmtlil n 
Ufkmig, S nd poured me a goudiimflUni.Tiii is 
mih hL'dnfraw-.ilkmi'irig, "t:\qLii- 

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• The first alteration we'll make is a 
simple pocket, formed by folding a 
page upon itself and fastening it to 
the page below it with brads. First, 
glue together 3 consecutive groups 
of 2 pages each. The 2 outer 
groups of pages act as the 
standard altering surface 
mentioned previously, while the 
one in the middle is folded into our 

• Fold the middle page into a point at 
its fore edge, hiding the folded 
portion behind the page. 

• Use a small hole punch to create 3 
openings (indicated by green 
circles) at the corners of the 
triangle formed by your fold, 
punching through both the middle 
page and the page behind it. 

• Insert decorative brads into the 
holes and open the clasps behind 
the back page, joining the pages in 
a closed pocket. 

• Using a sponge brush to apply 
Distress Ink on all the pages in the 
spread quickly creates a nice aged 
or weathered effect, though the 
possibilities for further embellishing 
this pocket are wide open. 

• After finishing this pocket, I 
stamped a couple of shipping tags 
to stuff inside, though you can 
leave it empty or fill it with 
whatever you choose. I thought the 

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Mona Lisa fit quite well with the 
Italian art and pop culture posters 
featured throughout the book. 

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Step 3 — Adding a pop-up mechanism. 

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• With a pop-up mechanism, the act 
of opening pages can trigger an 
engaging response for the reader. 
Find an image that works with your 
theme. Dover Publications 
( sells 
books and CDs of royalty-free art 
from the public domain, which work 
well for personal projects you 
intend to display or sell without 
seeking additional permission for 
copyrighted images. 

• Print the image on hard-stock 
paper, or print on a standard sheet 
of copy paper and then glue to a 
page with a heavier weight. 

• Cut out the image, leaving a 
clearance of 1" or 2" on the bottom 
and sides for added support (as 
marked with a solid red line). Cut 
the upper half of the image (the 
part that will extend above the top 
of the book when the pop-up is 
open) directly on its edge. 

• Fold the image in half vertically 
(the dotted blue line) and keep it 
folded for the next fold. 

• Fold the top of the image down (the 
dotted green line) at a 45-degree 
angle to the first fold (the dotted 
blue line). Reinforce the fold by 
creasing it in the other direction. 
Then, open the image to see all of 

• Fold the image vertically again (the 

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other direction on the dotted blue 
line); creating a crease that opens 
freely in either direction. 

• Glue the anchor to the spread, 
aligning the top of the anchor (the 
upper horizontal red line) with the 
top edge of the book, and aligning 
the centerfold of the image with the 
book's spine. 

• Fold the top of the image down into 
the crease and close the book, 
applying pressure. Allow glue to 

• Open your book to see the image 
pop up. Then, to complete the 
spread, paint over the empty 
portion of the anchor or cover it 
with other embellishments. When 
finished, the pop-up mechanism 
should be integrated fairly 
seamlessly into the rest of the 
ornamentation on the pages. 

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Step 4 — Text masking. 

• Text masking involves highlighting 
portions of text while painting over 
the rest. Most pages have enough 
words to create a new passage that 
fits your theme, regardless of the 
actual content. 

• Cover the text you want to remain 
visible with Post- It removable 
cover-up tape. 

• Use a sponge brush to apply paint 
to the entire page, completely 
covering the taped areas, then wait 
for the paint to dry. This takes 
about 15 minutes or so. 

• Remove tape to reveal your hidden 
message. Though I began a little 
skeptically because of all my book- 
loving baggage (I knew it would be 
tough for me to deface a book, 
even in the name of art), I now 
think I'm hooked. The more you 
alter, the more you realize that 
"finishing" any project requires an 
incredible level of discipline. I have 
a feeling most of my books will 
forever remain "works in progress," 
which shouldn't be seen as a bad 

This project first appeared in CRAFT Volume 02 , pages 130-133. 

This document was last generated on 2012-10-31 06:39:54 PM. 

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